The hills are alive at The Worcestershire Golf Club

Lee Williamsin Golf

The Worcestershire is regarded as being one of the very best golf courses in the Midlands, nestling as it does into the stunningly beautiful backdrop of The Malvern Hills. Lee Williams speaks to Steven Lloyd, the Course Manager.

Steven Lloyd first got into the industry through his granddad and his uncle. "Whilst at school I did work experience at Leominster Golf Club in Herefordshire. This then turned into a summer and school holidays job. When I left school in 1995, I was given a position at the club as apprentice assistant greenkeeper; I spent twenty-two months at the club until I decided to move on as there was no education forthcoming other than just working."

"I moved to Burghill Valley Golf Course in 1997 as an apprentice, and here I was able to gain my qualification, which I did at Elmwood College in Scotland on block release twice a year - two weeks in spring and three weeks in autumn. In a four-year period, I gained my NVQ Level 2 and 3 in sports turf, and I also have my spraying certificates PA1, 2 and 3 whilst working my way up the ranks to Deputy Head; a position I held for eighteen months. Things weren't working out, so the club had a rejig and I was given the position of Course Manager - at twenty-one years old! I worked in that role for fourteen years before taking the position here at The Worcestershire in October 2014."

Steven's granddad was the man who inspired him to get to the position he is in today. "Sadly, he died two years ago, but he was the one who got me into it, even when I left to go and do other things it was still always a matter of pop up and see Grandad, have a cup tea and discuss the job."

Left: Course Manager, Steven Lloyd

The Worcestershire is an 18-hole Par71, 6450 yard parkland course; Steven tells me more. "The course sits at the foot of the Malvern Hills, so it's very picturesque with the hills providing a beautiful backdrop. It has some nice elevation changes and is not too demanding when walking - the hillier parts are early in the round, then it flattens out. We have a small practice area - chipping green and putting green - and we have a bigger practice area which, unfortunately, is situated away from the clubhouse at the end of the driveway."

"The course lies on a heavy clay soil profile. The topography works quite well though being at the foot of the hills, so a lot of surface water does run through as it's not the sort of heavy clay where the water sits on top, slowly absorbs and gets muddy. Additionally, over the last fifteen years, a lot of drainage work has been carried out on the more problematic areas. I was told by a lot of sales reps when I came here that I wouldn't get much work done in the winter; its reputation being that it was really wet. But it hasn't turned out like that, it's been a good site to work with. Whenever we look to carry out drainage works, there is always a decent outlet to take it to."

Steven explains that the greens consist of three different construction types. "The course, designed by Alister MacKenzie, was built in 1927 and all the original eighteen greens were clay based push-ups with no irrigation, so they held moisture. In 1940, the back nine of the course was compulsorily purchased by the government, and they built a military hospital on it because Malvern was away from any major cities and it was deemed a safe area to do that. The course was reduced to nine holes over the war period and then, in the late sixties, the land was freed up again. By that point, there was an infrastructure of buildings and roads."

"In the seventies, the club bought additional land and brought in Hawtree and Co. to redesign the golf course. Out of the original layout, we have six original greens, plus the Hawtree greens, whilst the 15th green was rebuilt in early 2000 as it was having quite a lot of issues; so they built it to USGA spec! So, we have three distinct types of greens to manage, and drainage has been the big issue on the older ones."

Steven explains their maintenance. "We cut at 6mm in the winter and down to around 3.5 to 3mm at other times dependent on what we have going on in the growing months of the year. The seven McKenzie greens are on quite severe slopes, so we have to watch our speeds in summer; we can get to a point where they are unplayable, and you can't keep a ball on. We will roll three or four times a week through the summer with the Smithco turf iron so, along with cutting, we get to eleven on the stimpmeter quite comfortably. I will tend to go heavy on maintenance in early spring and again through the autumn period. I don't do a lot through the summer period. I play golf myself and so I'm aware of the frustration of pitching up on a lovely summer's day, walking up to the green and realising there are maintenance holes everywhere, which is disruptive to the play of the ball, so I like to keep that to a minimum."

During spring maintenance this year, we ran over one way with the Graden scarifier, followed by the Charterhouse Verti-Drain going down to eleven inches. We spread the sand, brushed in, then followed up with Toro ProCore with half inch tines at two-inch centres. We then spread more sand and brushed in. Over the week, we applied fifty tonnes of sand to the greens. In autumn, we will carry out the same process, but use the Graden in two directions. Through the summer season, we will do two or three light topdressings. We have a Poa/Bent sward which is quite tight, so trying to get sand in there in the summer can be a pain in the rear."

Left: Summer 2018

When Steven first arrived at the club, the thatch levels in the greens were at 50mm, which was an issue. "Over the last four years, we have hollow tined nine times using half inch diameter tines at inch and half spacings, which has removed a lot of material. This, along with using the Graden scarifier and adding around 120 tonnes a season of sand, has brought that down to around 25mm. Alongside this, we have installed new drainage into six of the greens, lifted the turf, trenched out and put drainage lines in."

"Our seventh green, for example - one of the old MacKenzie greens - regularly used to go on a temporary in November and stay there until April every year. We added drainage in November 2015 and has never been on a temp again since it went back on that Christmas. This has helped us keep thatch levels down. Our last thatch reading in the top 25mm was down to 4% organic matter, which has decreased really well as it was at 12% before. In a nutshell, we hit them hard when we have the opportunity, and then leave them for around seven months - occasionally going over with the Air2G2 that I hire from a friend and the Toro Procore with micro tines - but we will roll straight after to create as little disruption as possible."

Steven uses a predominantly liquid-based fertiliser programme on the greens. "In the last two years, we have dropped in the addition of Biomass sugars and HumiMax, I find this has helped to reduce nitrogen input a little bit. I found that we don't have to apply as many liquid feeds as we used to. In spring, during the renovation period, I will use a granular and then everything else is a liquid mix. For Poa/Bent greens we are running quite a low nitrogen input, which helps keep the speed up as we don't get that flush of growth. It seems to be helping with disease management too; we would spray six or seven times in the past with a fungicide. This is good news as the fungicides we have now are not as effective as the old contacts. We use a lot more turf hardener to try and help keep the plant healthier and stronger."

Since Steven took over at the club, he has looked at improving the machinery whilst also making the most of what he inherited. "Previously, the club would budget each year as it came. They had a £50,000 budget, which was split between projects and machinery; it was a bun fight to try and work it out. The year I came in they spent £25,000 on spare parts alone. The fleet was on its knees. There was two of everything because, half of the time, one of them had broken down. I put a proposal together in the first winter to clean out the front-line mowing equipment and bring in additional equipment that would allow us to carry out our own projects, as they were paying a lot of money out and not getting a lot back for their money."

"I put a package together for thirteen bits of new equipment which the club accepted in the first spring I was here. We have done this over a five-year hire purchase agreement with T H White Groundcare based in Redditch. This comes to an end soon, so we now need to make the decision about keeping what we have or going again with new. We have probably replaced a third of the machinery so far, and we do have quite a big fleet. One machine I would like to invest in is the Air2G2 - it would be nice to have it available when we want it."

Steven has five full-time staff, one part timer and a summer casual. Clive Jones, Deputy Head Greenkeeper, has been at the club 32 years straight from school and knows the course like the back of his hand. He has an NVQ Level 2 in sports turf plus spraying certificates PA1, 2 and 3. Adam Troop, Assistant Greenkeeper who also doubles as the handyman around the club, has eight years' service. He has his NVQ Level 2 and 3 in sports turf and chainsaw certificate. Greenkeeper Tom Howells has been with Steven for four years. He previously worked in the pro shop, is a scratch golfer, has NVQ Level 2 in sports turf and currently doing his Level 3, holds spraying certificates PA1, 2 and 6 and a chainsaw certificate. Josh Marshall, apprentice greenkeeper, has been at the club for eighteen months and is currently doing his NVQ Level 2 in sports turf. He went through the junior ranks at the club but wasn't keen on becoming a pro golfer so joined the greenkeeping team. Phil Birch, 55 years old, Apprentice Greenkeeper joined in April. He was previously a postman for 30 years. The part time staff member is 69 years old Ken Fredgill, who works three days a week as a greenkeeper/mechanic. "He is like gold dust to us," says Steve. The summer casual is the ex-Head Groundsman at Worcester Warriors, Martin Knight, who is now semi-retired.

Left to right: Adan Troop, Josh Marshall, Tom Howells, Phil Birch, Steven Lloyd, Clive Jones, Martin Knight and Ken Threadgill

Steven and his team have been working on some big projects in the last four years addressing the course's most significant issues the drainage, irrigation and the bunkers. "We have managed to drain the five worst greens on the course. In October 2017, we were lucky enough to have a new Rain Bird irrigation system put in, including a new ring main, pump set, control system and a valve in head system around the greens and approaches. All the pipework and cabling has been taken over to the tees, and this will be phase two of the project which we will do in-house over the next few years alongside tee reconstruction."

"Nine years ago, the club had major issues with stone contamination in the bunkers, along with poor drainage. They brought in a company, at a cost of £80,000, to rebuild the bunkers, lay drainage and put in sportscreat into the bunkers. Unfortunately, a year after the work was completed, the company went bust ... and the warranty went with it!"

"My budget was significantly less to solve the problems, so I went back to the basic principles. We've got good drainage outlets in the base, so that was fine. Every time we rebuilt a bunker, we shaped it so it only had to deal with the water that lands in it, not the runoff from other areas; that reduces all the washouts. As a liner, we just went back to traditional methods and used turf, laying it green side up. We gave it a month to root down a bit, then sprayed it off with Roundup, filled with four to five inches of pack sand, wacker plated it down on the bases and a couple of inches up the faces."

"We have tried to make the bunkers more visual by raising a lot of the faces, and we've added some extra bunkers for the longer hitters. Over a four year period, we have revamped or installed sixty-two bunkers altogether, which has provided much more visual impact out on the course."

Club history

Golf has been played in the Malvern area since the late 1800s, initially mostly on common land.

The Worcestershire Golf Club itself was formed in 1879 and, for several decades, played on Poolbrook Common using several different course routings.

The old clubhouse is located about one mile north of the current course on Poolbrook Common. In the 1920s, it was decided to move from the common, so a local farm, Wood Farm, one mile south of Poolbrook Common, was purchased.

The club invited golf course architects Harry Colt of Sunningdale fame whom, as a youngster, had himself played golf on the Poolbrook Common course, and Alister MacKenzie, later of Augusta National fame, to submit designs for the new course.

MacKenzie tendered the lower price and was awarded the work. In reality, MacKenzie's price was well exceeded and, when the club committee complained to him, he apparently informed them that it wouldn't have been any higher if they hadn't tinkered with his design so much!

The new Wood Farm course opened for play in 1927 and play continued here until World War II. During this period, the land comprising the second 9-holes of MacKenzie's course was taken over by the Ministry of Defence to build a hospital for anticipated D-Day casualties. In fact, several such hospitals were constructed within a short distance of the club.

This land was not recovered from the MoD until the early 1970s, by which time it was covered in brick buildings and concrete roadways

In due course, most of the buildings and roadways were removed or covered ~over. Residential housing however now covered some of the original second 9-holes of MacKenzie's original course. To make the course 18-holes again, an additional 9-holes, designed by Hawtree and Co, were built and, when incorporated with elements of the original MacKenzie first nine, an 18-hole course was re-established.

In 2000, the present clubhouse was opened. This replaced the original Wood Farm farmhouse that, with various modifications, had served for seventy years.

What's in the shed

Massey Ferguson Tractor c/w Lewis Loader
Richard Long Collector
Marston 3 Tonne Trailer
Howard renovator
Six tonne trailer
Toro Workman
Propass Topdresser
John Deere Pro Gator
John Deere HD 200 sprayer
Hunter Juno Grinder
John Deere Tractor
Charterhouse Verti-drain
Greentek Thatchaway verticut units
Twose mole plough
John Deere 220a pedestrian mowers x 2
Graden Scarifier
TurfMech Squirrel
Toro Fairway Mower
Toro 4500 Rough mower
Clubcar golf buggies
Takeuchi 2.5 Tonne digger
ISEKI TG5390 tractor
AFT trencher
Turfco Tornado Blower
Smithco tournament roller
Jacobsen 250 fairway mower
Jacobsen TR3 fairway mower
Jacobsen GP400 greensmower
Jacobsen Eclipse 322 greensmower
Wessex RMX 550 roller mower
Cushman Pro hauler
Fiat van
MX Loader
Beaver Verticut
McConnel hedge cutter
John Deere mower trailers x 2
Jacobsen Eclipse pedestrian mowers x 3
Trilo vacuum
Team walkover sprayer
Jacobsen Greensking pedestrian mower

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